The last meditation mistake I want to discuss isn’t so much an error in how we’re practicing, but a confusion in how we’re approaching the whole endeavor of meditation.
When we think about meditation practice, almost invariably, we think about it as a process that occurs over a period of time. We envision a future goal that we imagine meditation will help to bring about, and then we take up a practice which we imagine will gradually move us closer to that goal.
You’ve probably heard that if you meditate for 20 or 30 minutes a day, a number of good things might happen. Your stress levels might come down. You might become more focused, present and attentive. You might become happier and more content. For many of us, we do our practice now in the hope that these good things will come from it in the future.
Others of us take up meditation in pursuit of enlightenment or spiritual awakening. We start doing these practices now in the hope that sometime in the future we’ll have an experience of spiritual illumination. Perhaps we’ll even become enlightened. So, in this case, we’re practicing as preparation for awakening, or to add momentum to our potential for awakening.
It’s as though, every time we practice, we imagine we’re putting a little gas in the tank of the engine of awakening. And we assume that if we just do enough of it long enough, then maybe that extraordinary, mysterious event will happen and hopefully happen in a way that is able to be sustained, not just in a flash, but in a way that’s enduring.
At first glance, this goal orientation seems to make sense. After all, this is how we’ve been taught to relate to any goal we might pursue. And it’s how we’ve accomplished probably everything else we’ve achieved in our life.
But when it comes to meditation and spiritual awakening, this future orientation is actually a major hindrance on the path. As long as it’s in place, it will likely prevent us from discovering the true magic of meditation and the mystery of awakened consciousness.
Spiritual traditions ancient and modern have always asserted that spiritual awakening is about the discovery of a sacred dimension of reality and a sacred dimension of ourselves that already exists right now, complete and whole.
And, anyone who has even a glimpse of awakening realizes that it is only about discovering the sacredness and wholeness of this moment right now, and that any investment in a future moment of enlightenment is missing the entire point.
The simple, paradigm-shattering truth of enlightenment is that it can only ever be discovered right now in this moment. Any belief that we could do something now to prepare us for a future awakening will always be an obstacle to the immediate realization of enlightenment here and now.
Indeed, some spiritual teachers have gone so far as to discourage any form of spiritual practice, asserting that the very idea of “practice” is a postponement of our enlightenment, a denial of the fact that our true self is already enlightened.
And while I don’t agree that spiritual practice itself should be left behind, I do agree that meditating as a means to get to a future goal of enlightenment will never achieve its intended result. In order to unlock the power of meditation, it is imperative that we find a way to practice that brings the goal fully into the present moment.
The paradigm shift I’m pointing to is so significant that, for most of us, it will seem impossibly paradoxical. But there is a way to do it. It’s what I call “the practice of direct awakening.”
Genuine spiritual awakening has always been the pinnacle of human aspiration. If you’ve had even a glimpse of this profound spiritual potential, you know that an extraordinary, enlightened life is possible–a life filled with meaning and purpose, in which you have access to a seemingly limitless well of inspiration, wisdom, love and creativity.
So, why is that, for thousands of years, the supreme goal of Enlightenment has been shrouded in mystery, believed to be accessible only indirectly through decades (or even lifetimes) of repetitive and often tedious meditation practice?
As a spiritual practitioner, it never made sense to me that spiritual awakening should be so inaccessible.
After all, spiritual masters East and West have always told us that the miracle of Enlightened Consciousness already exists, fully formed, inside of each of us–that this luminous awareness is none other than our own true nature.
If this awakened “spiritual nature” is truly who we already are, why would it be nearly impossible to gain consistent, ongoing access to it?
It was my pursuit of this inquiry over decades of spiritual practice and teaching that eventually led me to a discovery that turned my entire world upside down.
The context for the inquiry that gave birth to the Practice of Direct Awakening was a series of evolutionary laboratories I had the good fortune to participate in.
When I talk about an evolutionary laboratory, I’m not referring to a sterile environment where people in lab coats attach electrodes to the scalps of meditators. I’m referring to a place where dedicated spiritual practitioners come together and spend thousands of hours doing spiritual practice and experimenting with awakening.
It was in one such laboratory that this new way of approaching meditation and spiritual enlightenment emerged.
The radical discovery that completely transformed my understanding of spiritual awakening is that it is possible to meditate in such a way that enables us to tap directly into the infinite energy, intelligence and freedom of enlightenment every time we practice.
Instead of doing practices designed to bring about a future moment of awakening, we simply need to learn how to practice “being awake” right now.
It’s a subtle shift in approach. But it changes everything.
In order to begin this exploration of the approach to meditation I call “the practice of direct awakening,” I want to invite you to temporarily set aside everything you’ve already learned about meditation.
Not because I think what you’ve learned is wrong or that this approach is “better,” but simply because the approach to meditation I’m describing may have little or nothing in common with meditation as you’ve been practicing it—other than the outer posture of sitting still for a while every day.
For most of us, meditating means silently repeating a mantra or sacred word, or following our breath, or labeling our thoughts and feelings as they arise, or trying to become a witness of our mind.
But this practice is about something entirely different.
It is a practice of directly recognizing our Enlightened essence or what is often referred to as “awakened awareness” or “awakened consciousness.”
In other words, the Practice of Direct Awakening is an approach to meditation designed to bring us into the immediate and direct awareness of our true nature beyond the mind and ego.
It is not a practice we do now to prepare for a future moment of Enlightenment.
It is not a practice we do now in order to get better at something or to strengthen particular capacities.
It is a practice of being Awake right now. Of being Enlightened right now.
This is possible because Enlightenment is the discovery of who we already are. It is the discovery of our “true nature.”
The revolutionary proposition at the heart of the Practice of Direct Awakening is that we don’t have to wait for Awakening to happen to us. We don’t have to spend a lifetime practicing various techniques in the hope that one day we will stumble upon awakened consciousness. It’s possible to actually practice being Awake, or resting in our true nature which is always already Awake.
At the heart of this paradigm shift is the recognition that just as our ordinary, unawakened consciousness operates in predictable ways, awakened consciousness also functions in reliable, observable ways. And if we can observe and understand how the natural functioning of awakened consciousness works, we can learn how to practice stepping directly into it.
For instance, if you’ve ever had a moment of awakening, you probably noticed that awakened consciousness is fluid, flexible, open and at ease. It does not grasp after certainty. It does not identify with thoughts and feelings. It does not react mechanically to circumstances. And it is naturally aware of the vast open field of consciousness itself.
When we engage in The Practice of Direct Awakening, we practice all of these things in meditation. We practice letting go. We practice letting things be. We practice not clinging on to the mind, not grasping after certainty and not identifying with thought.
We practice simply being present, awake, and aware and not in reaction to what’s happening. We practice not holding out for a better future, not looking for enlightenment or fulfillment somewhere other than in this moment.
All of these and many other natural attitudes or dispositions of awakening are things that you and I can sit down for 30 minutes a day and practice.
When we do this, we’re practicing relating to our minds, our feelings, and this world in an enlightened way. Instead of waiting for enlightenment to happen to us, we’re practicing being enlightened. Instead of waiting to wake up, we’re practicing being awake. Instead of waiting for a spiritual explosion to break us out of the prison of the ego, we’re practicing being free in each moment.
Another way to look at this is that when we do The Practice of Direct Awakening, we’re creating daily opportunities for awakened consciousness to show up by practicing a way of being that only awakened consciousness can participate in. Your ego can’t do any of the practices I just described. But you can. And when you do, you’re making room for a profound mystery, an infinite dimension of being, to show up in your experience right now.
What if awakening didn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process leading toward an ultimately unpredictable result?
What if, instead of spending the next 10, 20, or 30 years doing mindfulness practices, watching your breath or repeating mantras in an attempt to prepare for Enlightenment, you could engage in a daily practice that gave you direct access to Awakened Consciousness right now?
What if, instead of hoping for a lightning bolt of spiritual insight to awaken you sometime in the distant future, you could practice aligning with the limitless energy, intelligence and freedom of Enlightenment every single day?
If you’ve been struggling with meditation and other practices for any length of time, you may find that what I’m asserting sounds just too good to be true, or too easy to be genuinely transformational.
But, after teaching the Practice of Direct Awakening to thousands of people over the past decade, I can say with confidence that anybody with a sincere aspiration to Awaken can do this.
You can do this. It doesn’t have to take a lifetime to wake up.